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  • Writer's pictureRobey

#diceday - The Twenty-Sided Charmer

Updated: Apr 4

So, the d20. The ooooold twenty-sided friend of roleplay gamers everywhere.

You know, when I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, back in the early 80s, the d20 wasn't even in the game and yet, today, it's hard to imagine the iconic roleplay game without its most iconic polyhedral companion.

And even tabletop miniatures wargames - long shackled to the so-iconic-it's-the-first-thing-you-think-of-when-you-think-of-a-dice d6 - have begun to adopt the d20 as a symbol of innovation and out-of-the-box design. Independent super-hits, Infinity the Game and Frostgrave have both made d20s a staple of the wargamer's dice collection in recent years, as amply demonstrated by my own substantial collection:

But however much I might enjoy those games, I don't enjoy the dice itself. Just look at the picture above and you'll see why not. Just pick the dice at the bottom of the picture - the clear one (I think it's a Chessex, but don't quote me on that). You can instantly see 9, 19, 6, 11, 16, 14 and 3. Depending on your actual perspective and the angle from which you're looking it's not going to be immediately obvious what the actual result is.

Now go two to the left, to the second orange d20. Is that showing a 9 or an 11? The faces are so small and the difference of angle between each so shallow that the opportunities for a cocked dice are legion. On a tabletop, especially, were there might be terrain or counters, not to mention miniatures an other dice, the opportunities for unclear results that have to re-rolled are endless - and an endless source of disagreement with opponents in a social environment which diminishes everyone's fun.

Finally, 20. Can we talk about 20? I do have some sympathy with 20 as a range of possible outcomes. A single data point is a 5% chance, which has a certain intuitive appeal. And the critical end points of 1 and 20 and unlikely, but not improbable... if you see what I mean. If you see a critical "20", you get a pleasant dopamine hit from the thrill. But if you don't see it this time, well, you're not going to be jonesing for very long. And, likewise, the "1" of critical failure is rare enough that you shouldn't see them too often.

But, that said, mathematically, 20 is rubbish. It splits into 10 and then 5 and then... what? It can't split into three. It splits into 5, but who ever uses that? It's a very inflexible range. It pairs well with the d100 (which we'll look at eventually) but the two are effective interchangeable.

It's just not a great dice. It's got its place in the polyhedral hierarchy, for sure. But I just don't feel like it deserves its iconic place on the rostrum of dice heroes. I feel like it's only there because of its looks. Reaper's awesome mini (above) notwithstanding, I feel like the d20 is the Bard of dice. It's got a supporting role to play. It can tell some interesting stories. But it relies on its charisma to get things done. And, like bards, it's not as cool as it thinks it is.

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